We have had some problems with birds and squirrels getting into the attic of our rectory. They were making a bit of a mess inside. Some of the birds after getting in were unable to get out and in the summer dying before we knew they were there. We had a contractor look at the attic to see what was needed. He came while it was raining – and while in the attic spotted and pointed out leaks in the roof. Fascia and eaves had rotted out allowing what one vestry member called the “East Market wildlife refuge” to come into being. Heavy duty remediation was called for.
The last two days have been long days for the young guys doing this heavy and risky work (1890’s house 3+ stories tall). It has been a series of surprises. In removing the roofs (there were 3 one on top of the other) we discovered that the original roofing was a metal roof- hard to get off on the steep slopes of our roof. Then the decking was rotted from present and previous leaks and much had to be replaced.
Yesterday they discovered that several of the rafters had become disconnected from the support beams. And finally as they were working the main beam was found to be springy – looking inside found it had cracked and it too needed to be repaired.
I asked about the cause and was told what should have been an obvious reality to me. “It is over 110 years old. With heat and cold expansions nails can pull away. Water over time rots wood. Stresses from windstorms flex the support structures and old wood become brittle.” In other words normal wear and tear from over a long period of time needed to be recognized and remediated.
Looking at the house from the ground or from the outside, while there was a sign or two, the full extent of the wear and tear was not obvious. We were close to a roof collapse if the right combination of pressures, stresses and strains had been applied. But it took a careful inspection to see that possibility might result.
In our lives as individuals and as faith communities we also get “wear and tear” that cannot be seen from the outside. And we have to be aware enough to look for the signs. And once found we need to remediate these if we are to be able to endure what life can throw at us.
Often our busyness extends over a long period of time and erodes our ability to take time to recharge, take time for spiritual practices and prayer that can sustain us. Taking the time (an hour, and afternoon, or a few days) for a retreat either formal or informal can begin to renew that balance we need and provide our essential grounding. Or as a church taking a break and having a short term focus on prayer, team building and renewal before taking on another project or ministry.
We usually know in our inner wisdom what we need – and often tell ourselves we do not have the time now and will do it later, and it becomes later, and even later. But we cannot give what we do not have. Like the rafters and beams in the attic if those things which support our health, balance and well-being become disconnected we will have less and less ability to ably cope with stress, wear and tear.
Perhaps we as individuals and institutions need to take regular “walks” through our support structures looking for signs that we need to renew, refresh and strengthen. And we need to be willing take action on that which we need to do to strengthen our internal supports to be able to withstand the storms of life – before we reach a crisis stage.